The preacher asked, “Who is ready to come to the altar?” At first, only a few responded, then many more came forward. Moved by the soul-awakening sound of the worship band, they had tears rolling down their eyes and arms stretched out high. There were people of all ages ready to surrender everything to God. Their stretched-out arms, like boulders on the seashore being pounded and soaked by the heaviness of the Spirit they encountered. They had just finished hearing about how powerful God’s love is and how they needed to make it known to others. They responded to the “call” to stand out from their peers and carry the Good news to rest of the world.
Perhaps a comparable circumstance takes place in Isaiah 6:8, where God asks, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” In Isaiah’s case, God sent the seraph to cleanse Isaiah and then he was able to respond to God’s call. His sin was atoned for, his guilt was removed, and he was now ready to serve God. We know that for us to be cleansed and saved, Jesus died for our sins. Here, the person asking the question is also providing a way for the person responding to grow and be prepared to face the responsibility. Many times this relationship and the resulting spiritual growth is weak, causing the initial fervour to eventually fade out.
Some of the challenges to accepting Christianity in this generation is the understanding of good and evil together, suffering in the world, perceived hypocrisy in religious institutions, and belief of a judgmental attitude.
The confidence in the answer to our readiness derives from our physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment. Although the image described in the beginning is a beautiful and encouraging thought, maybe today the demand and necessity of this nourishment are slowly exceeding the supply. How can young people in the modern era confidently say they are ready to take the gospel to their friends, moving past the altar to the unreached? From our perspective, how can leaders effectively communicate their message?
Learning to understand us
There are numerous studies done to categorise and analyse the younger generations—the Millennials and Generation Z (those born between 1981 and 2015). The young population is a stakeholder in the world’s growth and progress, forming majority of the workforce and will soon be in charge of many executive positions. An American research group, Barna, has identified many peculiar characteristics of our generation, which are predictably in contrast to that of the older generations. This research explains that some of the challenges to accepting Christianity in this generation is the understanding of good and evil together, suffering in the world, perceived hypocrisy in religious institutions, and belief of a judgmental attitude.
It is easy to notice that fewer people of our generation associate with a religion; values like inclusivity and social justice are more important to us. Eclectic and relativistic ideals make up most of our moral and spiritual beliefs. Our generation does not hesitate in “calling out” a person perceived to be a hypocrite or morally wrong according to our standards. We question the reality of what is being said, we desire familiarity, acceptance and dialogue in resolving an issue.
We should not forget that our Christian youth, brought up in the church, also form a part of this classification of younger generation. However, it does not necessarily mean we want to conform to every trend and belief we are exposed to. We hold similar behaviours and mentalities to our peers, but at the same time, want to stay true to our faith. We are challenged by a variety of topics that are usually looked over or avoided in churches but encounter quite often in today’s world. Although we are part of the melting pot of ideas, lifestyles and cultures, we also want to find our identity in Christ not only based on truth but also applicable to the world we live in. We want to see that what is being preached is also followed.
You can help us
You may have already recognised some of the findings laid out by the Barna research group. The point is that cultures are going to change, and so are the trends in generations, but the only thing that we know does not change is God and his word. Of course, our generation must improve on our part, but this can start by bringing some changes in the way we are acquainted with Christ. The bible encourages us in Ephesians 4:11–13 to be mature in Christ and emphasises the importance of the various leaders of the church to help us attain that maturity.
Prioritise spending extra time with the youth to teach and discuss principles of Christian faith. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul talks about the usefulness of Scripture in equipping us for good works through teaching, rebuking, correcting and training.
Give us an ear
First, listen to what we have to say. Before assuming and “preaching” to us, find out what is going on in our minds, what are the questions we face? Be willing to meet us at our level. Jesus displayed this attitude when he dined with tax collectors and sinners, knowing that breaking the social barriers would yield much more fruit. Welcome the dirt and grime of our modern cultures to the doorstep in order to transform our thinking and behaviour as we return to the unescapable culture with a renewal of heart and mind.
Build meaningful relationships with us
Second, develop a relationship with the young people you want to convince or persuade. Our generation is more likely to listen to you if we find familiarity. Paul consistently worked to develop meaningful relationships with the church through his frank letters and visits. Also, after Isaiah had responded, the Lord spoke to him directly, signifying the personal relationship God wanted in order to teach his servant. (Isaiah 6:9) Additionally, Acts 2:42– 47 describes the Christ-like fellowship among the believers, which further cultivated the powerful work of the Spirit.
Help us learn together
Third, encourage questions and be willing to show honesty in admitting to not knowing all the answers. Allow us to see the accessibility in discovering the truth and work with us together in realising it. Declaring a list of points to follow will almost certainly be ignored. If we don’t find the qualities required of us in the speaker as well, it pushes us even further away. In his book Apologetics for New Generation, Sean McDowell says, “Teaching truth does not mean sprouting cold facts or sterile propositions. Rather, the goal is transformation of mind and heart, resulting in love of God and neighbour (Matthew 22:37–39).” We need to see examples of honest and relatable leaders in order to imitate them and consequently, be like Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Four, prioritise spending extra time with the youth to teach and discuss principles of Christian faith. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul talks about the usefulness of Scripture in equipping us for good works through teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. We also see many instances of teaching and mentorship, including real-life experiences of ministry. Some examples are Jesus and the twelve disciples, Ananias and Barnabas discipling Paul, and Paul and Timothy. Here the mentees would not only be taught from the Scripture but would learn from experiences spending time with their teachers on mission trips. We learn that to raise good leaders from the current generation, a persistent effort in discipleship is required.
Lead us to a relationship with God
Five, relating to God. Many times the church is portrayed as a place of judgment, and on spotting even a sliver of hypocrisy, the youth then refuse to be hopeful of an alternative life. We need to be introduced to the entire personality of Christ, not only the disciplinary side of God. On encountering the loving nature of God, we connect and eventually are empowered to share the truth. Peter asks us to revere Christ as Lord, especially during persecution, to be prepared to defend the hope that we have in Christ. (1 Peter 3:15) Understanding the true nature of God and being able to build an enduring relationship helps us fulfil Peter’s instruction. True confidence to preach Christ, even during persecution, will come when we comprehend who He is and then our defence of the truth is inevitably gentle and respectful.
We are ready to come to the altar
The younger generation today has significantly been involved in demanding change in society. We have seen some influential secular leaders of this generation sprout up—like Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan), Greta Thunberg (Sweden), and Kanhaiya Kumar (India). How do we encourage the Christian youth also, to grow as leaders? Our generation is ready to stand up and is hungry for transformation, but this fervour is only effective if we understand God’s plan. If we are left to ourselves, seeing the current trends, we might end up somewhere else. So acknowledging the enthusiasm and directing the stream towards the truth requires good mentorship and sound investment into our lives. It is time the Church leaders step in, not just to preach but also to teach, train and strengthen us.